It’s no surprise that editorial staff at Merriam-Webster chose pandemic as the 2020 word of the year. The word was based on usage of the word as well as statistics including the number and frequency of online searches.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of a pandemic is as follows: ‘an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population.’
People.com website says that the word pandemic has its roots in Greek. Pan meaning ‘all ‘ or ‘every’ and demos meaning ‘people’.
Use of ‘pandemic’
Pandemic is not a new word. But, for many, it was not a word used in day-to-day conversations until March 12, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Merriam-Webster reports that on that day alone, over 115,000 searches for the word pandemic occurred.
Since March, most of us use this word many times every day. We talk about how long the pandemic will last, how the pandemic has changed our lives, how our lifestyle has been affected by closures and restrictions.
Children use the word as casually, and as frequently, as do adults. They understand how to wear masks correctly when at school. Sometimes they are frightened by news of sickness or deaths. They long for opportunities for playtime with friends. They speak of how the pandemic has prohibited them from seeing close family members, or from having birthday parties.
Not one newscast ends without some reference to the effects of the pandemic. It may be a citation of numbers of positive tests or numbers of hospitalizations or numbers of deaths. There may be news of restrictions or lockdowns. Recently, newscasts brought an element of hope with announcements of vaccines.
This pandemic has affected our behaviour, our culture, our environment.
Public Health Authorities advise frequent hand-washing, wearing masks, and staying 2 meters away from others when in public indoor spaces.
Politicians struggle to balance population health effects and economic devastation. Many hesitate to announce restrictions such as the closure of bars, restaurants, and gyms in a naive attempt to keep small businesses afloat.
Dependence on and use of technology has escalated. We’ve learned to use Zoom or Google Meet for business and for socializing. Most education happens online. Family gatherings, hospital visits, book club meetings, church services, and happy hour events also happen on our screens.
Travel, as we knew it before March 2020 is a distant memory with cruise ships docked, resort communities empty, and airlines fighting to survive. The same applies to concerts, theatre performances, and sports events.
The long term effects of the pandemic are unknown. It’s a world-wide phenomenon that has displaced our daily way of life. People have lost jobs; businesses are shuttered. Everyone has experienced some level of psychological change and stress from the anticipatory anxiety that is rampant. Social chit-chat when out and about is limited as we get nervous when people stand too close or interact without wearing a mask.
Continued Use of Pandemic in our Lexicon
My humble opinion is that frequency of the use of the word pandemic will continue well into 2021 and beyond.
We already hear the term ‘BP’ used to describe ‘Before Pandemic’ when life felt more normal.
Many are also planning post-pandemic activities including travel, parties, and hug fests. I’ll be playing a cautious waiting game with the expectation that personal behavioural changes including hand-washing, social distancing and wearing masks will be components of pandemic interactions for months. The frequent use of the word pandemic won’t go away.